“The Professor, the Banker, and the Suicide King” Review

[LL] “Michael Craig (or his publisher) deserves significant credit for the catchy title of his book, The Professor, the Banker, and the Suicide King“, Leroy the Lion claimed. “But the Professor (Howard Lederer) and the Suicide King (Ted Forrest) were just two of over a dozen top poker pros who played sky-high stakes heads-up Limit Hold ‘Em against the Banker (Andy Beal) over a few years until Beal gave up his high stakes hobby.”

[LL] “Despite being non-fiction, Craig’s prose is more entertaining than C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, requires more suspension of disbelief than Grimm’s The Mouse, the Bird, and the Sausage, and provides more lessons than Aesop’s The Lion, the Bear, and the Fox“.

[RR] “What about the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker?” Roderick the Rock wondered.

[LL] “That depends on how you feel about gambling. I say, ‘It’s not gambling if you expect to win’, so the poker pros did no wrong, except perhaps gambling beyond their means. Beal is pretty innocent too, as it was practically play money for him. With a net worth of about $10 billion, playing with a $20 million bankroll was basically the equivalent of you and I playing penny ante poker.

And he did his homework. He studied, ran simulations, and practiced Heads-Up Limit Hold ‘Em. He did his best to increase the stakes beyond the pros’ comfort level, well beyond the highest stakes that had ever been played in the Big Game, which had shifted to the Bellagio from the Mirage in October 1998 as Bobby Baldwin moved over to his own new poker room.”

[RR] “But the pros did end up winning, right?”

[LL] “Yes, but it’s fascinating to see how close they came to failing spectacularly. Their edge may have been smaller than they realized, and the variance at such high stakes was too high for their bankroll, but under Doyle Brunson’s leadership, they decided the risk was worth the upside.”

[RR] “Bankroll management has been a downfall for many poker pros. But at least it worked out for the Corporation. I take it you recommend the book?”

[LL] “The good, the bad, and the ugly: it’s a fascinating read; except for Beal’s brief returns in 2006 and 2015,1 nothing like this has ever happened in poker before or since. Unfortunately, the story is rather repetitive, much like the game itself. Of all the poker games they could have played, Beal chose Heads Up Limit Hold ‘Em, which is one of the least exciting games if not for the sky-high stakes. It would also be the first poker variation conquered by computers a decade later because of its simplicity.

It’s a unique volume in all of poker literature.”

Title The Professor, the Banker, and the Suicide King
Author Michael Craig
Year 2005
Skill Level any
Pros Fascinating insider’s account of the highest stakes poker ever played.
Cons A bit repetitive and almost entirely about the relatively simple game of Heads-Up Limit Hold ‘Em.
Rating 3.0

Footnotes:

  1. After the book was published, Beal returned to play the Corporation in 2006 and won $13.6 million. But a week later, Phil Ivey took it all back, plus another $3 million, sending Beal into poker retirement again. Beal played casually after that, only returning briefly to Bobby’s Room in 2015 for a single, $50,000/$100,000 Limit Hold ‘Em heads up match in which he lost $5 million to Todd Brunson.
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